Ban hails role played by civil society in advancing global health

30 August 2010 – Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have an invaluable role to play in advancing global health goals, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today at the annual United Nations conference aimed at boosting the participation of civil society on key issues.

Mr. Ban told the 63rd UN Department of Public Information/NGO Conference that partnerships between civil society and governments and the private sector will be critical if the world is to make serious inroads in the number of preventable deaths, particularly of women and children.

“You have a unique presence on the ground, in communities,” Mr. Ban told participants at the three-day conference, which opened today in Melbourne, Australia. “You understand, like no one else, the daily challenges faced by the most vulnerable. You have the passion and networks to spread our messages far and wide.”

The theme of this year’s conference is improving global health, especially in connection with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the series of internationally agreed social and economic targets which world leaders have pledged to try to attain by 2015.

The MDGs include several health targets, such as reducing the mortality rate for children under the age of five by two thirds; slashing maternal mortality rates; achieving universal access to reproductive health; and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In a keynote address to the conference, Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), stressed that the MDGs were not just a matter of targets, but represented a broader movement for equity worldwide.

He said it would be impossible to achieve any of the MDGs without an inclusive system of governing and that meant ensuring civil society had a strong voice in all major policies and decisions.

Mr. Sidibé cited the social movement that has emerged around the HIV pandemic in the past three decades, bringing huge increases in funding and spending on efforts to defeat the disease, as an example of where the world has been able to “harness the passion and the expertise” that NGOs have.

Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the event by video link that human rights must be at the centre of all efforts to attain the MDGs and global health in particular.

Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, used his address to highlight the multiplier effect that improving global health would have on all the other MDGs.

Mr. Akasaka said investment in health has been shown worldwide to yield significant returns as investing in women and children reduces poverty and stimulates the economy.

He also noted that world leaders will gather at UN Headquarters in New York next month to assess what progress has been made towards the MDGs and where efforts need to be focused between now and 2015.

This is only the third time the annual DPI-NGO conference has been held outside UN Headquarters in New York. Last year’s event was staged in Mexico City.

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